I Just Wanted to Worship God


Of all the attacks, slanders, gossips, truths and traumas in the shameful debacle-drama of Harvest Bible Chapel, one woman’s lament echoes: I just wanted to worship God. That’s simple. That’s all. And it should have been that way. She just wanted to join in where Jesus Christ would be honored, His word taught, His ways lived, forgiveness granted, lives changed.

This woman is one of multitudes who suffer because of catastrophically failed shepherding. What led to the catastrophe? Celebrity and power and money served as a triple-seduction. Lusting for a little, then conquering some, leads to cascading cowardice and complicity. In Harvest culture, protecting the key man and multiplying so-called victories was paramount. It metastacized into an insatiable hunger to win and conquer and conquer some more . . . bigger numbers, more properties, more money, more adulation. Never-ending successes were relentlessly measured by How Big, How Many, How Much. I was there in 2007 when a man argued that the church’s leadership culture had morphed into a carnival house of mirrors, where truth was unrecognizable and where a horribly difficult place to work caused spiritual illness. (Of course, he was shouted down.) Lead vocational shepherds were owned and so would not or could not see the truth to tell it. Non-vocational shepherds were largely overmatched, kept in the dark, maneuvered into compliance and dazzled by complexity and the after-glow of hanging out with star power.

Vocational shepherds were owned. How could they muster consistent courage—or even occasional courage—to see and then to speak? Who can see and speak truth when he’s paid well more than $100,000 a year or even $500,000 a year? (Plus generous benefits.) Where could the man go where he’d enjoy a similar cash-cow? He’s got a big mortgage, a wife and kids. Where would he go? Or, for non-vocational shepherds, where’s a man to go when he gets much of his self-worth from hanging within the glow of incredible church success? Where is any man to go if seeing and speaking gets him cast out, vilified, ridiculed, ruined? Did all of them quench the principles of Christ? It seems so. Those principles were left to wither in a dark place of the heart. That dark place always multiplies fear and dread and, finally, ends in catastrophe.

But then, there’s that singular woman who just wanted to worship God. Spare her the drama, the dread, the conniving, the gaming. That woman is one of a multitude of tragic casualties.

She is akin to 800 U.S. Navy sailors who signed up to fight in World War II and ended up dead because of the prideful foolishness of U.S. Congressman Andrew Jackson May. He was a big man in 1944. Even so, May was the biggest reason why 800 U.S. Navy sailors died when Japan sunk 10 U.S. Navy submarines. These 800 were young men who simply wanted to do their part to defeat Japan, Germany and Italy.

Submarines in the U.S. Navy had avoided being sunk by Japan’s depth charge explosives. They escaped by traveling well below the depth at which the Japanese depth charges exploded. Japan had an odd habit of consistently setting the charges to explode at a depth of about 150 feet. So, U.S. submarine commanders routinely dove their submarines well below 150 feet.

Then Congressman Andrew Jackson May was in on a war briefing that noted Japan’s failure to sink U.S. subs. So what did May do after the briefing? He announced at a press conference that U.S. subs were safe because they travelled at depths well-below Japanese depth charges. Japan’s navy heard May’s comments and changed their tactics. After that, Japan’s navy sunk 10 U.S. submarines, killing 800 sailors. May’s astounding blind pride and stunning foolishness killed those young sailors. 

How much wrath would Congressman May have endured if those sailors had had a chance to speak? Or how much anger would boil up from the families of those sailors? Immeasurable. That’s why so much wrath is being poured out on the failed shepherds of Harvest Bible Chapel.

After the war, May was convicted of taking $53,000 in bribes connected to government munitions contracts. He did not pay a fine. He spent only nine months in prison and returned to practicing law in 1952. He died in 1959.

It’s days and years like these that require the simple worship of the almighty God. We lean into His character and into His promises, as in Psalm 27:13-14 — I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong and let your heart take courage; yes, wait for the Lord. (NASB)

Be, Do, Repeat . . . That's It for Shepherds

What's an elder to be, or not to be? That was the question. Then we looked at What's an elder to do. Besides that, we prayed and laughed and ate and had a good time.

Thirty-eight men—from our FiveStone partner and supporting churches—joined in this year's multi-day Rock Conference. Our driving point: an elder can't rightly do the work of shepherding the Lord's people unless he's rightly walking with Him. That means pursuing the Lord's mind through the Lord's word and prayer and living in the sharpening that comes from shouldering the work with other men.


In light of these things, who are elders to be? They must be like Jesus, which is so commonly said these days that it sounds close to trite. The challenge from Romans 8 is being willing to be conformed into Him. As we looked at the context of Romans 8:29, it was clear that we must learn to respond to the difficulties of this world as Christ responded to them. His example is exemplified in the Servant-song of Isaiah 50:4-9. Shepherds are to be men of courage (Acts 4:18-20), men of faith (Hebrews 11), men of the gospel (Colossians 2:6-7).

We gave each man coasters of granite that were etched with the 5Stone logo. Stones in granite. He is our foundation rock. There must be no other. We are to be built into Him and on Him (1 Corinthians 3:10-11). I hope the men will keep those coasters in eye-view to remind them of their calling.

If He's called a man to do shepherding work, He will shape that man into who he needs to be in order to do the work He's called him to doHe promised that to Moses, and delivered (Exodus 3-4). That's His comforting promise to each of us. We need to be willing to be and then do.

Click here to see an album of photos from The Rock Conference.

Diotrephes the Bully Versus Elder John - Round 2

The bully Diotrephes, noted in John's third letter, is headed for an unpleasant encounter with church discipline. Using what certainly was a prominent position in the church, Diotrephes diminished other leaders, spoke wickedly of them, bullied other believers to be inhospitable and, if they did not comply with his commands, prevented them from gathering among the congregation (3 John 9-10). The conduct of Diotrephes, repeated and cemented over time, should have disqualified him from shepherding leadership. But it did not. It would take someone such as the apostle-elder John to lead a flint-like, prophetic response to Diotrephes' abuses.

Given the list of his long-term sins, surely many witnesses could have attested to his behavior. In keeping with the requirement of 1 Timothy 5:19, the local congregation would have needed only two or three. Someone from within the congregation must have gotten word to apostle-elder John about Diotrephes’ abuses. The first accusations almost certainly would have been delivered to Diotrephes indirectly in a flanking approach. This indirect approach would have prevented Diotrephes’ from delivering a withering attack on his accuser. Despite the righteous accusations, Diotrephes persisted in his abuses. (I’m reminded of a friend who was stuck working with several bullies. In his misery, he said, These are the guys I hated in junior high school. Rightly said. My friend had painted a simple picture of the bully-tyrant Diotrephes and the relentless pain he and his ilk cause.) Apostle-elder John would lead the way in handling it. John’s pledge to speak of Diotrephes' offenses could rightly be assumed to include a public rebuke. A public rebuke, reserved particularly for unrepentant, sinning elders, would be in accordance with 1 Timothy 5:20.

As a good elder, John would have focused on protecting, cleansing and restoring the health of the church. He also would have looked with hope to the welfare of Diotrephes. In his third letter, John does not directly state concern for Diotrephes, but his concern is demonstrated in his promise to confront the sin. A crisis of confrontation sometimes is needed to break an entrenched pattern. Paul urges such a crisis of confrontation in 1 Timothy 1:3-7. He exhorts Timothy in verse three to stop those who are teaching false doctrine. In verses six and seven, he ridicules these teachers for their arrogance and incompetence. Sandwiched between these verses is his charge that love must be Timothy’s motivator as he confronts these teachers. Paul says in 1 Timothy 1:5 that the confrontation is to be done out of love that springs from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.

Wayne Grudem, in his book Systematic Theology, argues that church discipline properly handled allows the sinning leader to begin the gradual process of rebuilding relationships and trust with the congregation. That truth is rooted in the biblical principle that church leaders are held to a higher standard than are other congregants. When leaders fail, they hurt the whole church.

Even so, could Diotrephes have a future in the local church? Given John’s emphasis throughout his letters on abiding relationships and fellowship, as well as grace, mercy and peace in 2 John 3, we can assume that even a persistently abusive leader such Diotrephes could be restored to fellowship after whatever disciplining rebuke John and the other leaders delivered to him. But Diotrephes would have been required to own all of his ugly sin patterns—not just a portion of it—that he had amassed over time.

A repentant Diotrephes seems a perfect fit for the person Paul describes in 2 Corinthians 2:5-8, If anyone has caused pain, he has caused it not to me, but in some measure—not to put it too severely—to all of you. For such a one, this punishment by the majority is enough, so you should rather turn to forgive and comfort him, or he may be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. So I beg you to reaffirm your love for him. Even so, if Diotrephes refused to own all of the sin he had amassed over time and be reconciled in fellowship with the church, he could be, as John describes in 1 John 1:6, a liar who does not practice the truth. 

Owning only a portion would be insufficient for Diotrephes. It also would be insufficient for the local elders, who failed to confront Diotrephes earlier, before his bullying metastasized like a cancer and severely harmed the church. Perhaps they were afraid of Diotrephes or were over-matched by his ability to bully. The reason does not matter. Owning their failure would be the elders' bitter fruit for feeding the growth of a bully-tyrant and for joining in his sin.

Forgiveness can be granted immediately, but restoration of relationships and position take time. Diotrephes took a long time amassing his sin list. An immediate or fast restoration of Diotrephes to authority and responsibility would be an egregious error. John and the other leaders certainly would not have accepted a spoken repentance of, Oops. Sorry about that. Glad that's over. Nothing more to do. Let’s move on. But re-building trust, responsibility and authority take time. Some sins are consumed like food. The eating of food cannot be un-done as if it never was eaten. The repeated and severe damage Diotrephes inflicted on other believers could not be paid back as if he had stolen a few measures of wheat. He could not un-do his actions like Zacchaeus, who repaid his financial victims fourfold to compensate for his sin (Luke 19:1-10).

In order to be restored to shepherding leadership, Diotrephes would need to demonstrate authentic, biblical repentance as a demonstration of his sincere grief for all of the damage he caused. That repentance would yield fruit to be harvested over time—of the type described in 2 Corinthians 7:9-13. That would be sweet, and would nourish an opportunity for restoration.

Words spoken do not by themselves prove repentance to be authentic. The words simply are an early step. Genuine repentance for Diotrephes would be a difficult process. That's why genuine repentance rarely comes from a Diotrephes.

Diotrephes the Bully Versus Elder John - Round 1

The letters from the apostle John, who refers to himself as an elder both in 2 John and in 3 John, have a lot to say about church discipline. In verse 10 of his third letter, John says he plans to bring up what he (Diotrephes) is doing. What was Diotrephes doing? Simply said, Diotrephes was a bully.

Handling a bully in the church is difficult, but handling a bully who also has immense and seemingly unassailable authority is a different level of difficult. The man with that kind of authority not only is a bully, he’s also a tyrant. He’s been allowed over time to build his own personal kingdom and becomes too big to discipline. Strong elders could have and should have dealt with his behavior far earlier, before it became a metastasizing cancer in the church. Now they have a major problem. Responding to it requires that the elders become a multiplied force of flint-faced prophets. Soft, feckless elders, failing to understand their job or lacking the courage or gifting to do it, unwittingly feed the bully and create the tyrant.

But, again, what was Diotrephes doing? In 3 John 9-10, John says that Diotrephes refused to acknowledge the authority of both John and of Gaius, who was referenced in verse one. John says in verse nine that he had written something to the church, but that Diotrephes disregarded John’s message. John says in verse 10, I will bring up what he is doing, talking wicked nonsense against us. And not content with that, he refuses to welcome the brothers, and also stops those who want to (welcome them) and puts them out of the church. Using what certainly was a prominent position in the church, Diotrephes demeaned other leaders, spoke wickedly of them, and bullied other believers to be inhospitable and, if they did not comply with his commands, also prevented them from gathering among the congregation.

The conduct of Diotrephes, repeated and cemented over time, disqualified him from shepherding leadership. It would take someone such as the apostle-elder John to lead a flint-like, prophetic response.

As I noted in the article, Church Discipline According to John, elders are to protect and nurture the church. They look after her, build her, strengthen her, sacrifice for her. In his book, The Church, Edmund Clowney rightly says that discipline advances nurture. When John in verse 10 of his third letter says he plans to bring up what he (Diotrephes) is doing, he obviously intends not only to rely on his own authority to address Diotrephes, but also intends to bring the circumstance to the local church’s authority structure, i.e. to the local elders, and then likely to inform the entire congregation.

In 2 John 2, John links himself with all of the brothers and sisters in Christ by noting that the Lord’s truth abides in us and will be with us forever. With those words, John includes himself with all other followers of Jesus and claims nothing special for himself. Contrast that with the sinning elder, Diotrephes, in 3 John 9-10. In pledging to bring up what he is doing, talking wicked nonsense against us, John makes it clear that church leaders are to be held accountable for their behavior. If we presuppose that Diotrephes had an important leadership position in the local church, possibly as an elder, we can see that powerful church leaders are not exempt from the application of church disciplline. In fact, when a man has been allowed to become a bully-tyrant, the local church's elders eventually must gird up their loins to impose appropriate discipline against a most difficult target. Because of their authority and responsibility, elders are rightly more vulnerable to examination and public rebuke, as described in 1 Timothy 5:19-25. Diotrephes persisted in various sins, i.e. placing himself first, likely refusing to distribute an earlier letter from John, rejecting the authority of church leaders, sinfully talking about church leaders, refusing to welcome itinerant ministers, stopping others in the church who wanted to welcome itinerant ministers, and putting believers out of the church who refused to fall in the line Diotrephes had drawn. All of these sins are patterns that take time to cement and build upon.

John only says in 3 John 10 that he will bring up these matters. It seems clear, though, that Diotrephes is headed for an unpleasant encounter with church discipline. Next up: Round two of Diotrephes the Bully Versus Elder John.

Church Discipline According to John

I’ve never heard anyone talk about the apostle John’s views about church discipline. The topic always seems to lead people into Matthew 18. But John, in his three New Testament letters, has a lot to say about discipline that ensures the church is strong and healthy. Despite the view of a church leader who told me, with clear certainty, that the sole purpose of church discipline is to make forgiveness happen, I think theologian Wayne Grudem has it right when he argues that, at its core, church discipline is to keep sin from the church (Ephesians 5:25-27; 2 Corinthians 11:3), cleanse sin in the church (1 Corinthians 5:1-13) and restore individuals in the church into healthy relationships (Galatians 6:1).

John’s three letters do not directly address church discipline. But John refers to himself as an elder twice—in 2 John 1 and in 3 John 1—and his letters point to the elders’ responsibilities to protect, cleanse and restore health to the Lord’s church.

When John, in 1 John 4:1, tells his readers to test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world, what is the follower of Jesus to do when he believes that a particular spirit within a person is not from the Lord? Beyond his own discernment, to whom should he turn for guidance or assistance in rightly responding to this person? Is he on his own? Or, in 2 John 10, John says the follower of Jesus should not welcome a false teacher into his home or even greet him. Is that where the issue ends? Does John intend to leave a false teacher and his doctrine unaddressed within the congregation? In 3 John 9-10, John says that Diotrephes does not acknowledge our authority in the church, (meaning the authority both of John and of Gaius, who was referenced in verse one). Is that where the issue ends? Although John says in verse nine that he had written something to the church, John indicates that Diotrephes has dismissed John’s message. John says that Diotrephes does not acknowledge our authority, and I will bring up what he is doing, talking wicked nonsense against us. John continues in verse 10, And not content with that, he refuses to welcome the brothers, and also stops those who want to (welcome them) and puts them out of the church.

2 John.jpg

When John says he will bring up what Diotrephes is doing in the church, John seems to be understating his intent. John asserts that he will respond to Diotrephes’ words and actions. Using his prominent position in the church, Diotrephes has bullied other believers to be inhospitable and, if they did not comply with his edicts, prevented them from gathering with the congregation.

Diotrephes almost certainly held an important position in the church. Otherwise, how could he have exacted such strong-armed control? If Diotrephes held a position of authority in the church, perhaps as an elder, and the apostle-elder John pledged that he would speak of his behavior, to whom would John speak? Who within the structure of the church would have the authority to deal with a sinning elder? The Scriptures teach that elders are the Lord’s undershepherds and have authority and responsibility to shepherd the church. Given their role, the church’s elders would have primary responsibility to deal with Diotrephes. And then, after they discerned what would be appropriate for the health of the church, they could present the circumstances to the broader congregation.

Elders are to honor the Lord by protecting and nurturing His church. Elders are to honor the Lord by being more and doing more than other congregants in the local church. They have a bigger assignment. The Lord will hold each elder accountable for the quality of his shepherding performance (Hebrews 13:17). Elders are undershepherds of Jesus Christ as they serve the church (1 Peter 5:1-4). They must be strong enough to ensure that the Lord’s honor is the foundational commitment of the church. Elders are to protect the church. From what? They protect the church from anything that would weaken, sicken or hurt her (John 10:11-15; Acts 20:28-31).

As I listed in an earlier blog article, among the most common attacks on the church are personality cults, divisions over music styles, heresies, legalism, license, syncretism, Gnosticism and its forms, Judaizing and its forms, Docetism and its forms. Sometimes, though, attacks on the church come from bullies like Diotrephes. What do you do about a Diotrephes in the church? I’ll talk about that in my next article, Diotrephes the Bully Versus Elder John.

Bumblebees Cannot Fly . . . Don't You Know

Someone said that, according to the laws of aerodynamics, bumblebees cannot fly. But bumblebees, not knowing the laws of aerodynamics, go ahead and fly anyway.

Bumblebees go ahead and fly anyway. Real followers of Christ go ahead and follow Him despite all of their obvious impediments and natural inclinations to wallow in the dirt.

I really like that bumblebee quote, and read it aloud early on day two of last weekend’s leader retreat at City Centre Baptist Church in Mississauga, Ontario. I didn’t use it right from the get-go on Friday night, but waited until Saturday morning. We spent Friday evening looking at the awesome responsibility of rightly leading the Lord’s church. After letting the weight of it sink in overnight, I kicked off Saturday morning by answering the obvious question: Who is adequate for these things?

The fatso bumblebee with its tiny wings is completely wrong for flying. And, just to look at us, we are completely inadequate to shepherd the Lord’s church. But we go ahead and do it anyway. And, in the process, we try to get others in the church to lose the bumblebee excuses for failing to fly.

The retreat theme: Devotion, Motivation, Urgency . . . all with the Lord and all for the Lord. We wanted to get a grip on the leader’s requirement to love Christ in a deeper way, leading to greater motivation to work for Him, compelling the leader to serve Him with intense urgency.

Friday's focus:

Saturday's work:

  • Passion, Vision, Mission;
  • Jesus’ Vision for the Church;
  • The Worker’s Toolbox;
  • In the Slough of Despond, a.k.a. Sanballat, Demas, and Alexander the Coppersmith.

The weekend was exhausting and exhilarating. It was a blessing to be with others who don't just want to do more for Jesus, but first want to be more for Jesus so they can truly do more for Him. Check out some retreat photos here

The Rock Conference - How Big, How Many, How Much

I’ve been reflecting on whether The Rock Conference hit the mark earlier this month, as we focused on the theme: Building commitment to biblical success in the local church. In building that commitment, we also wanted to take a chisel to the miserable tyranny of how big, how many and how much. The conference was, uh, a Success. We achieved our mission to Edify, Protect, Encourage and Support pastors and church leaders.

No need to say how many were at the conference. (There were plenty; more than expected.) And no need to say how much money we lost on the event. (We lost plenty, but no more than expected.) Kent Hughes was riveting and remarkably humble in his teaching from the Scriptures and from his 41 years in pastoral ministry.

One pastor—Mike Thorburn of Bayside Community Church in San Jose, Calif.— took me aside during the conference and stuck me with many observations that I wanted to remember. Problem was that I remembered the gist of what he said but not the exact specifics. So I called him. We talked, and then he sent me his comments in writing. They get at the core of things. I’ve pasted Mike’s comments below:

We live in a performance-based culture. What you do for me is more important at times than why you do it or the character with which you do it.

This is true for many modern ministry models. If a person is getting results, is talented or fulfills a perceived need we often do not question the person’s motives or character. We’ve created a ministry model that values performance and results over godly character. Sometimes we even overlook obvious character faults due to the person’s success. There are a multitude of examples of how this is evidenced in today's church.

FiveStone Churches is unique in that the core values are character-based. Integrity, authenticity, trust, leadership and service are qualities that are easily found and supported in Scripture and are qualities which work hand-in-hand with the fruit of the Spirit and the Pauline leadership qualities for elders and church leaders.

In fact, Paul's call for leaders to be men who are gentle, faithful and persevering shepherds seems to be a distant memory for what we should be in light of the CEO, rancher, business model for ministry that is taken for granted today. While Paul could write from prison that he had fought the good fight and finished the race, today we read of victory through the breaking of attendance records and the square footage of facilities.

The new paradigm of FiveStone Churches is really a call to return to the biblical foundation of leadership based on character. But this new paradigm creates a tension in many pastors. Today's message to pastors is that church size is the single most important factor in determining success. The second most implied message, and perhaps the most dangerous is that true godliness always results in quantitative growth, not qualitative growth. In conjunction with this is the message that you do spiritual things in order to get visible results. The debate used to be doxological versus soteriological. Our culture now says that you do not seek godliness to glorify God (doxological), you pursue godliness to achieve personal success (egological).

I can't say that numerical success isn't biblical. For example, we have Pentecost as a huge numerical growth because God was working. But for every Pentecost in Scripture there is also an Isaiah (no one listens), a Jeremiah (no one cares) and a Jesus in Capernaum (John 6:67 - everyone leaves).

So at a conference like The Rock Conference where the focus is shifted away from numerical success there is a definite tension. All of the questions we normally ask just don't seem to fit. That's because we've been conditioned to ask questions that have at their core the desire to be successful in the bigger, better, how many, how much realm rather than at the realm of faithfulness and character. Man looks at the outward appearance. God looks at the heart.

Kent Hughes, Success and The Rock Conference

I slipped my carefully crafted certified letter—return receipt requested—into the post office mail slot.

For many days before sending that letter, I consistently expected to reap excellent fruit from my work. But, as I walked away from the post office, I felt sudden despair and dread. I whispered, This is ridiculous. He won’t come. He has no clue who I am. He doesn’t know any of our guys. He won’t even respond. Maybe he’ll respond. But he’ll say, ‘No.’

When Kent Hughes called me a couple of weeks later, I didn’t take the call. I didn’t recognize the number. But then I decided I should figure out who was calling. Good thing, because it was Kent Hughes trying to say Yes to my invitation. So much for the power of suddenly negative thinking.

This is very good. Kent Hughes is spending the day with us at The Rock Conference to talk about success in ministry. And we’ll worship in music, we’ll pray, we’ll discuss how to apply the Scriptures in leading the local church.

The Rock Conference will define Success in the local church the way the Lord defines it, as described in the Scriptures. We want to build a commitment to embrace the Lord’s definition of success.

That’s Monday, April 15, at Calvary Bible Church, just west of Detroit in Ypsilanti, Mich. It’s for pastors and church leaders.

Edify. Protect. Encourage. Support. I’m expecting a most excellent, fruitful day.

Do Not Despise the Day of Small Things

Lucas O’Neill is a smart man pastoring a small church. And so, in his mind, leading the church to join a network was no conundrum. He knew that Christian Fellowship Church would be best served by joining a network of like-minded churches. He just needed to figure out which one. I’m glad he and the elders landed with us at FiveStone Churches.

Lucas gets it. He wants the church to grow stronger in every way, but he does not measure success with the dominant stick of how many and how large.

We have good people in our church, he said. But it’s tough to gain strength when you’re alone as a pastor and as a church. I like the strengthening aspect of FiveStone Churches and the commitment to protect and build the local church. It’s refreshing for our people and for me to be part of something more than ourselves.

As Lucas and I grew to know one another during the past several months, we resonated in the conviction that the local church must be independent at its core, yet committed to the wisdom of uniting with those who share convictions of doctrine, governance and practice. We agreed that FiveStone Churches would be hands-on in the relationship to help the local church grow stronger. We would Edify, Protect, Encourage and Support. But, at the same time, the local church is not to be controlled by forces and interests from outside the local congregation. Whatever influence I have in the local church, for example, is based in the relationship I have with the pastors and elders and other leaders. And so comes one of our core convictions: We influence by relationship, not mandate.

As I said at the opening, Lucas is a smart man. In addition to his pastoring role, he teaches homiletics as an adjunct professor at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago and is working on a doctor of ministry degree in preaching at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in Boston. He pastors a church small in number but large in other ways. I suspect that Christian Fellowship Church will grow larger in many ways.

Click here to read a FiveStone Churches news article about the church and Lucas.

And, one more thing, A small church can be a great church.

From Acts: Principles for Strong Church

I just finished an intensive reading of The Acts of the Apostles. It freshly strikes me that, in the first chapter, Jesus gave the apostles no specific details of their new assignment. He promised them power through the Holy Spirit and charged them to be His witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and all of the world (Acts 1:8). How exactly were they to take His word elsewhere?

Eight overarching principles in the book of Acts form the foundation for a church that honors Christ and takes ground to make disciples in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the world.

Principle of right proclamation: The Lord honors the proclamation of His word. At least 24 notations in Acts clearly state that the Lord blessed the proclamation of Jesus as the Christ and the bold proclamation of His word. The capstone of this pattern occurs in the last verse of the book, that is, Acts 28:31, in which Paul is described as proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance. Also note: Acts 4:29-31; 5:42; 8:4-5; 11:20-21; 12:24; 18:28; 19:8; 19:10; 19:17; 19:20; 20:20-21.

Principle of trustworthy leadership: Leaders must demonstrate a life worthy of trust. This principle is demonstrated primarily in the example of the disciples bringing their possessions to the leaders. Acts 4:34-37 details the first such scene. The apostles testify to the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Lord extends His grace upon the people, and the people respond by generously giving. The local church gave generously to the people who were in need, but they gave to those people through the apostles. Acts 4:35 says they brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles’ feet. This pattern is replicated in Acts 11:29-30, when the disciples entrusted Barnabas and Paul to deliver financial relief to brothers and sisters in Judea. In both of these examples, the disciples had confidence in the integrity of the leaders. That confidence led them to trust the leaders to do what was right and good with the wealth given to their care. But the leaders bore the burden of ensuring that the money was properly distributed. If the leaders had failed, they would have lost the trust of the people.

Principle of generous giving: The leaders had the responsibility to properly handle the Lord’s money, but the people had the joyful opportunity to give generously as a blessing to others. Acts 4:34-37; Acts 11:29-30; Acts 20:35.

Principle of proper polity: The local church is to be led by leaders qualified to shepherd the Lord’s people. These core leaders include elders and deacons. In Acts 6:1-7, the apostles delegated authority to the congregation to choose from among themselves men who would serve as deacons to meet the basic needs of  the people. In Acts 14:23, Paul and Barnabas appointed elders for every church in every church. In Acts 20:17-35, Paul defends his ministry and charges the elders of the church at Ephesus to diligently defend and shepherd the Lord’s church.

Principle of proper purpose: The gospel of Christ is to turn people to the light of Christ in order to receive forgiveness for their sins and to be counted among those sanctified by faith in Christ. Acts 26:18.

Principle of clear and urgent teaching: The Lord wants preachers and teachers to clearly, thoughtfully and urgently teach the Scriptures. In many references in the book of Acts, Paul, Peter, Stephen, Phillip, Apollos, Barnabas and Silas demonstrate the value the Lord places in competent teaching of His word to His people and to unbelievers.

Principle of clear commitment to doctrinal purity: The Lord values right doctrine. Right doctrine clearly describes the required response to the identity of Jesus Christ. Paul warns the Ephesian elders in Acts 20:30-35 that some will speak twisted things and draw people away from the truth of Christ. Paul admonishes them to remember the words of the Lord Jesus.

Principle of competency in selfless serving: The Lord wants leaders to be more than dispensers of truth. They also must demonstrate the Scriptures’ command to serve others. The Lord’s sensitivity to the care of others’ needs, for example, led to the appointment of deacons in Acts 6:1-7. Selfless caring for others is key throughout Acts.

Christ’s judgment of a church’s success may or may not square with a specific culture’s evaluation of success. In the evangelical Christian culture of the U.S., for example, success is commonly defined as numerically large, musically contemporary, financially wealthy, and featuring rock-star leaders. The Lord’s review of the seven churches in Revelation 2 and 3 should encourage those who cannot boast about any of those.

Christ evaluates success by several factors:

  • faithfulness to Christ;
  • faithful service to others;
  • protecting the church;
  • endurance in suffering;
  • fighting false doctrine;
  • embracing the Lord’s reproof and discipline.

He nowhere marks success by numbers, worship music, financial wealth and rock-star leaders. That should be an encouraging reminder to those without big numbers, financial wealth, amazing worship music or rock-star status.

The 12-Tool Toolbox

The Scriptures command that an effective spiritual leader—a worker in the Lord’s church—must skillfully use various tools in shepherding the Lord's people. That’s in keeping with the Lord’s exhortation in 2 Timothy 2:15: Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.

There’s also no need to fear people when doing what the Lord wants done. If you’re about to fail to deliver because you’re afraid, then remember the Lord’s words in Jeremiah 1:17. My paraphrase: You’d better get ready and say what’s needed. If you’re terrified by people, then I’ll cause you to be terrified by people even more. So, if you let people-fear paralyze you, then you might have to reap—directly from the Lord’s hand—a multiplied fear of people.

Equally paralyzing can be a fear of failure. It's the fear of failing to rightly apply the Scriptures, to know what to say, when to say it and how to say it. Yikes, we don’t want any of that. Even so, rightly applying the word of truth is the high goal of the worker's best efforts.

With that admonition fresh in mind, here's a look into the 12-tool toolbox:

• Reprove, i.e. to present evidence that reveals wrong; to expose, prove, show fault, correct, convict. (Proverbs 12:1; 2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Timothy 4:2; Hebrews 12:5; Revelation 3:19.)

• Rebuke, i.e. a type of reproof; a rebuke involves a stern command to stop; to censure, strongly tell, strike at. (Proverbs 27:5; Proverbs 28:23; Ecclesiastes 7:5; Matthew 19:13; Luke 17:3; 2 Timothy 4:2; Titus 1:9; Titus 2:11-15) Peter’s astounding rebuke of Jesus in Matthew 16:22 was personal, strong and scolding. Note that, in response, Jesus turned immediately to face Peter and delivered a withering rebuke: Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man. (Jesus was not nice, but that’s a different issue.)

• Refute, i.e. to prove wrong by argument or evidence; to show to be false or erroneous. (Job 33:5; Luke 21:15; Acts 18:28; Titus 1:9 in NASB and NIV)

• Exhort, i.e. to strongly urge to take an action; to make an appeal. (1 Corinthians 1:10; 1 Thessalonians 2:10-12; 1 Thessalonians 4:1; 2 Timothy 4:2; Titus 1:9; Hebrews 12:5; 1 Peter 5:1)

• Admonish, i.e. to instruct with a strong warning so the hearer comprehends, understands. (Psalm 81:8; Romans 15:14; Acts 20:31; Acts 27:9-10; Colossians 3:16; 1 Thessalonians 5:14; 2 Thessalonians 3:14-15; Romans 15:14)

• Confront, i.e. to challenge or resist; to stand as an adversary. (2 Chronicles 26:18; Titus 1:10-11; Galatians 2:11; Galatians 6:1-2)

• Encourage, i.e. to inspire with courage or hope. (1 Samuel 23:16; Philippians 2:1-2; Romans 15:4; 1 Corinthians 14:3; 1 Thessalonians 2:10-12; 1 Thessalonians 5:14; Hebrews 10:24)

• Edify, i.e. to build and strengthen; instruction that leads to strength. (Romans 14:19; Romans 15:4; 1 Corinthians 14:3; 1 Corinthians 14:12; Titus 1:9)

• Console, i.e. to ease grief or pain. (1 Corinthians 14:3; 2 Corinthians 2:5-11; Philippians 2:1-9; Hebrews 12:12-13)

• Comfort, i.e. to reassure those who are in distress, anxiety or need. (2 Corinthians 7:4-13; 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18; Philemon 7)

• Implore, i.e. to testify as a witness regarding result, consequence; to strongly urge; to beg attention to an issue. (Luke 16:28; Romans 12:1; Ephesians 4:1; 1 Thessalonians 2:10-12)

• Remind, i.e. to bring to mind something that was learned before, but perhaps forgotten or diminished over time; to bring to mind in order to stir to action. (Romans 15:15; 2 Timothy 1:6; Titus 3:1-2; 2 Peter 1:12-15)

The Fakers at Your Church

How many, how many, how many . . . drawing numbers into church worship services is a big ticket these days. The church growth picture includes all kinds of facets. And here’s another: Coaching to help unbelievers successfully participate in church worship services. This from the Chicago Tribune in an article titled, The Faker: A heavenly deception.

The writer likens pastors to restaurant maitre d’s and bartenders: They see a lot going on under the metaphorical table but they remain as quiet as a church mouse—at least in public. He says pastors give a free pass to Fakers in the local church. Fakers attend not because they want to, but because they have to out of necessity or politeness or who knows why. Fakers can sit in the local church without even a small challenge from the church's shepherds to get serious about doing business with God. That’s quite an indictment against today’s church leaders, isn’t it?


The Faker says several moves will successfully pull off the deception:

  • Dress not to impress but to blend in. (This is dubious wisdom, because the writer urges women to guard their hem lines and says men should wear a dark business suits or navy blazers and khaki pants. Really. Not many churches these days have such a code of attire. Blending in actually might require simply falling out of bed and showing up at church.)

  • Be prepared to wear headgear if needed. Ladies should bring a scarf just in case. Just don’t wear a baseball cap. (I don’t know about this. Can’t recall when I last saw a woman in church wearing a headscarf, or a baseball cap. But a baseball cap on a man seems stylish in some churches.)

  • Always take a program. Scan it to get an idea of the agenda and what’s expected of you. Locate hymnals or prayer books you may need. (Yes, this is good Fakery advice.)

  • Bribe the kids. Offer food or money to get the kiddos to sit still and not reveal that you are Fakers. (Ah yes, very good. Teach your children well.)

  • Get close to the action, but not too close. Don’t sit at the back. Move toward the front so you look more like a regular attender. But don’t go too far to the front because you need to watch others and follow what they do. (The Faker erroneously assumes people who sit at the back have something to hide.)

  • Sit, stand, kneel when everyone else does. If hitting your knees offends you, then cheat. Slide your rear end to the end of the pew, lean your knees toward the floor and then lean your forearms against the pew in front of you. (This is nothing new. I learned this trick as a boy. I just watched the men of the church and got the hang of it pretty quickly.)

  • Accept new things that are done with respect and, usually, in silence. If something is restricted to members of that specific denomination, don’t take part unless you’re eligible to do so. (Must be talking about communion here, but I don't get why the Faker would be sensitive to this. A devoted Faker should consistently demonstrate the sincerity of his fakery, and should have no angst about ethics.)

  • Stay to the very end. Then, slip out the side door. If you must stop, resist saying that you’ll be back next week unless you mean it. (Again, I don’t know why a Faker should be sensitive to this. After all, a Faker’s a Faker, and all is fair game for the Faker's shtick.)

A lot of The Faker's advice is neatly cunning. But it doesn’t work well in churches that have a plurality of good shepherds who know the flock, reach out in meaningful ways to newcomers and lead well from the pulpit and the platform. Still, it's disturbing that Fakers can so easily sit comfortably in many local churches.

The Curious Case of a Sunday School Teacher

Here’s a case that came my way recently:

Benjamin serves in his church as a Sunday School teacher of middle school children. He is popular with the children and with the youth pastor. Benjamin has been at the church for several years, he’s been baptized at the church and is a member. He recently confided to the church leadership that he is a homosexual. Benjamin is aware of the biblical teaching on sexual activity and says he wants to live a holy life. He is committed to celibacy but is certain that he cannot change his sexual orientation. He asked the leadership for prayer and support as he pursues what he says is God’s call for him to be monastic. Meanwhile, George, a prominent elder in the church, says that he plans to leave the church unless Benjamin is removed from his teaching role. The situation has become known throughout the church. What are the church’s elders and other leaders to do?

I was surprised that almost all of the comments from the leaders were geared toward defending Benjamin, how to help Benjamin so he can continue in his role as a teacher and what should be done to rebuke elder George for his ultimatum.

Here’s a representation of the comments:

• What constitutes sin? Is desire a sin or is only acting on desire sinful?

• It’s obvious that elder George told the church about Benjamin’s situation. The elders need to rebuke George for gossiping about this.

• The church is a family, and not all family members are the same. We need to be tolerant and patient with one another.

• A substantial percentage of homosexuals cannot change, and we shouldn’t punish them for not being able to change.

• Why pick on homosexuality? I used to serve as a pastor at a church where quite a few board members had big problems . . . there were adulteries and divorces and re-marriages . . . all in the same church . . . and some of these people were on the board!

• Why should being gay be an issue? You don’t see people talking to others and saying, ‘By the way, I’m heterosexual.’

All of that makes powerful fodder for discussion. But begging for the asking are several questions that lead to important principles in church leadership:

• What are the most important concerns in the case? Is Benjamin's teaching role primary? Is George's role as an elder primary? No. The most important concern is the health and protection of the church. Whatever honors the Lord is best for the church. Even righteous, God-honoring decisions can lead to difficult consequences. The preferences and position of any individual are subservient to the health and protection of the church.

• If teaching is a role of esteem and influence in the church—and it is—then do we want Benjamin to teach the boys and girls in our church? I was surprised that no one stood on the conviction that an openly homosexual person—celibate or not—should not have a teaching role in the church. This springs not from a desire to persecute homosexuals, but from the conviction that homosexuality is a grave offense against the Lord’s natural order and is sinful according to the Scriptures. Benjamin should be cared for in the church and valued as one made in God's image, but giving Benjamin teaching opportunities is a different matter entirely.

• Is it right to single out homosexual desire for special rebuke? No, of course not. But people shouldn't be expected to respond normally to someone who confidently and publicly announces temptation toward sexual sin, such as, I desire to have sex with all of the blonde women in the church. I’m not acting on my desire because I want to be holy. Now, let me teach your children in Sunday School. Even the least discerning follower of Christ will suspect that that person has some serious problems, and that those problems aren't only about sexual desire. Yet, somehow, in this case, the church leaders gave Benjamin a free pass while they hammered George.

• Is leading in the local church a right for everyone who wants it or is it a privilege for those who are not perfect, but are qualified according to biblical standards? It’s strange that the leaders’ comments in this case were totally dominated by sensitive thoughts toward preserving Benjamin and by angry thoughts toward rebuking George. But why rebuke George? For the ultimatum he delivered? Sure, that’s a rebuke that seems warranted. We don’t know how the congregation became aware of Benjamin's situation, so George cannot be blamed for spreading the information through the church. But should George be rebuked for his energy to remove Benjamin from his teaching role? I don’t think so. Why? Because his conviction that Benjamin should not teach is easily defensible. George may have responded harshly out of anger, or maybe he’s just mean and small. Or maybe he’s afraid that the elders and other leaders will not do what’s required.

Among all the leaders who discussed this case, about 99 percent of their energy was directed against elder George and was protective toward teacher Benjamin. It struck me that many church leaders seem indoctrinated to tolerance and geared solely toward compassion so that they have no sharp edge of protection for the local church. Are they afraid of being accused of being small or harsh or narrow or phobic? Or are they so lacking in discernment that they don’t even know how far they’ve strayed from balanced strength? They may want to protect the church and many think they’re doing well by being tolerant and broad-minded. But church leadership ultimately is a privilege, and there are some sinful behaviors—and self-assured, public announcements of sinful temptations—that simply cannot be tolerated by those charged with protecting the church. In this case, the leaders’ sharp edge was turned to protect Benjamin and attack George, with no consideration of the church as a whole and the church's children in particular. The considerations needed to cut a path that was broader and deeper. That’s why good eldering is so difficult. Apart from abiding in Christ, who is adequate for these things?

The Lord has an Opinion

Laid a foundation in this week’s shepherding and sharpening work with the elders of a church in Wisconsin.


Conviction: The Lord has an Opinion.
Seek His mind, seek His heart. He has powerful feelings about His people and the way they’re led. Love and lead the church. Love the Lord in fear and reverence. Do not fear people. Be sure you don’t disdain or despise people, but the work of leading must be done without fear of people. Ecclesiastes 10:4; Jeremiah 12:5-11; Ezekiel 2:7; Ezekiel 3:7-9; 1 Corinthians 3:5-7.

Action Priority: Honor the Lord, no matter what.
1 Samuel 2:3; 1 Samuel 2:30; Malachi 1:6-14; Isaiah 29:13, Isaiah 30:1-2; Colossians 3:23.


Conviction: The Lord’s glory and reputation are core.
2 Samuel 12:10; 2 Samuel 12:14; Isaiah 43:1-7; Isaiah 52:5-6; Ezekiel 36:19-23, 1 Corinthians 10:31.

Action Priority: Take care in your relationship with Him.
Examine yourself to root out presumption, secret indulgences, religiosity, license, legalism, laziness, frenzy, pragmatism, foolishness, worldliness. Psalm 19:12-14; 1 Timothy 4:16.

Action Priority: Your reputation matters. Build it on the reality of your relationship with Him.
Your reputation reflects on Him. It reflects on the Lord’s church. And it reflects on your wife, your children and your other relationships. 1 Chronicles 4:10; Ecclesiastes 10:1; Proverbs 22:1; Ezekiel 3:20.

When They Should Go

People leave churches for any number of baby or sinful reasons. But there’s a flipside. Sometimes the church's leaders need to quickly get on the same page to correct a person and possibly remove him from the church. Certainly, leaders must patiently work with people in their sin. The universal church is a family, of course, and you can’t really leave your family. So you try to work it out. But, as is true in earthly families, there are times when a son or daughter needs to hear: You can’t live here and behave this way. When you’re ready to change, then we’ll welcome you back. 

It’s really about church discipline. The Lord installed church discipline to keep sin from the church (Ephesians 5:25-27; 2 Corinthians 11:3); cleanse sin in the church (1 Corinthians 5); and restore sinning saints (Galatians 6:1).

What kinds of sin in the church demands immediate action and which can be placed on a slower burn? I don’t claim the below list is exhaustive, but it may serve as a slate for discussion and further thought.

Urgent Now (demands a strong, immediate correction). It’s when someone:

• intentionally twists the Scriptures to hurt the church, as in 2 Peter 3:16-17;

• clings to an obviously sinful relationship, as in 1 Corinthians 5;

• gives money, but then demands a level of authority as payback;

• intentionally disrupts a worship service;

• installs himself as first in importance and abuses others, as in 3 John 9-10;

• obviously flaunts a decision or a warning from the elders;

• obviously abuses people of the church.

Urgent Soon (calls for a more patient correction). It’s when someone:

• teaches a strange doctrine, as in 1 Timothy 1:3-4;

• complains that the preacher preaches from the Bible too much;

• makes a charge against an elder without verification, as in 1 Timothy 5:19;

• teaches others to obey unbiblical requirements, as in 1 Timothy 4:1-5;

• pits one leader against another leader, as in 1 Corinthians 3;

• causes divisions in the church, as in Romans 16:17-18 and Titus 3:10;

• harshly judges others’ freedom, as in Romans 14;

• parades his freedom and leads others to stumble into sin, as in Romans 14;

• participates in a pattern of nasty, destructive criticism;

• picks fights with the pastor or other leaders;

• demands—rather than aspires to—a position of authority and responsibility;

• ridicules those in positions of authority and responsibility.

Teach Them to Build the Church

People leave their churches for any number of reasons. Some of them are childish: I didn’t get my way, she offended me, pastor ignored me, elder asked me to change, ushers too directive, carpet’s the wrong color . . . on and on the list goes.

Such thinking must be challenged. That’s where pastors and elders do some of their best work. One of their core jobs is to challenge the thinking of people who have unbiblical, immature or sinful understandings of the purpose of the church and their role in it. They need to understand that they should strengthen the church to help it honor the Lord by making, baptizing and teaching disciples of Jesus Christ. Pastors and elders need to pass people’s words through the grid of the Scriptures to discern whether the thoughts are biblical or unbiblical or simply immature or sinful. They need to help each person think and act on the purpose of the church and the Lord’s desire for their participation in it. It’s part of the leaders’ job of protecting and nurturing the church.

Many think the church is about them. They think it’s about them being pleased by everything the church offers and taking whatever the church offers. If a person isn’t serving to strengthen the church, then he needs to start doing that or he needs to go to a church where he will do that. In 1 Corinthians 14:12 and Ephesians 4:11-13, Paul urges followers of Christ to excel at building up, or edifying, the church. The Lord doesn’t want his children to be forever babies, i.e. consumers, complainers, users and takers. There is time, of course, for baby believers to learn how to live the Christian life and to eventually serve the church. A believer in Christ needs to learn that the Lord wants us to excel at strengthening the church. That thought is so counter-cultural in many of today’s churches that it sounds stunning. It’s so counter-intuitive that it seems radically strange. Who thinks like this in today’s churches?

I know of an overworked, underpaid and under-appreciated pastor who endures an elder’s snide comments whenever the pastor takes a brief vacation. Maybe we need to cut your pay. Seems you have too much time on your hands. This pastor’s been on the job for seven years. And he’s tolerating an elder who is not excelling at strengthening the church. Sadly, the elder understands his authority and responsibility, but he likes to exercise it by beating down the pastor and making him miserable. What an accomplishment on his spiritual resume’.

Teach your people—elders too if they don’t know it—a radical old concept: Use your spiritual gift to excel at building the church. That would be excellent.

See What is Not Yet

Starting a new church—or strengthening any church—includes leaning into the obvious. I don’t mean quietly accepting the obvious. I mean Lean into it. OK, so you don’t have a building, a strong student ministry or high quality video and sound. Talk about it directly. It’s obvious to everyone. Challenge people to see something else. Challenge them to see what will be.

Church leaders absolutely must see the future and share it with passion. If they fail to compel people to see a strong future, then the church already is toast. Why? Because the church rises and falls on the quality of its leadership. A core leadership quality is getting people to see what is not yet. (Of course, after people see what you see, then you must deliver the vision to reality.)

Man in road pic.jpg

A few objections and answers:

Objection: You don’t have a building of your own. I need a church that already has a building.

Answer: Right, we don’t have a building of our own. Maybe someday we’ll have a building and it’ll be used to honor the Lord. You can help us get there. And then you’ll look back and say, ‘I helped the church. Those were amazing days.’

Objection: You don’t have much of a ministry to students. I need a church that already has that.

Answer: You’re right. Someday we’ll have a really strong ministry for students. But we’ll help you disciple your sons and daughters. For now, you and your family get the privilege of working to plant a church that honors the Lord. And then you’ll look back and say, ‘I helped the church. Those were amazing days.’

Objection: You don’t have very good video during your services and the sound quality really isn’t great. I need a church that already has that.

Answer: Right, we don’t have very good video. And audiophiles are disappointed. But we expect to get there. And you can help us. And then you’ll look back and say, ‘I helped the church. Those were amazing days.’

Maybe you really want to say, Shut up! Quit being such a baby. Stop whining and being so selfish. Give something instead of only taking. (Nah, don’t say that.)

So, planters and pastors building a stronger church need to lead eyes away from what is not yet and help people see what will be. Church planters need spiritual pioneers, the brave souls who get it.

At the same time, there always are people who throw doubts on the work. Maybe this is good answer for them: If you can’t see what we’re trying to build, then don’t help us. But you’ll miss the blessing that comes with throwing yourself into building the Lord’s church. If you do join us, you’ll look back and say, ‘I helped the church. Those were amazing days.’

Another Adultery . . . and Devoted Pastors

I just received word of a pastor I know who’s stuck in adultery with a church staff member. It’s been going on for many months. And for all those months, there he was, looking cool and talking cool in a growing, thriving and edgy church, preaching the Scriptures week after week and casting vision for church planting and multi-site campuses . . . all the while engaging in a secret sexual affair. He’s a husband and a father and was a pastor. And he drove his life over a cliff.

Sex led to his fall, but some seductions are more subtle. For some, it’s the intoxication of money, or power, or prestige or maybe the praise of men or who knows what. Any of them can lead to a slow eroding corrosion or a sudden collapse. Doesn’t matter which way. At their center is nothing but wood, hay and straw.

This is why it’s a privilege to welcome faithful pastors into the FiveStone Churches work of church planting, church renewal and church strengthening. It’s been one year since FiveStone Churches launched as a network focused on character as the proving ground for ministry leadership. Gifting obviously is important, but it must be secondary to the qualifications described for eldership in 1 Timothy 3-4 and in Titus 1. We’re committed to Christ as the foundation of the church and to building on His foundation with precious stones—1 Corinthians 3:11-13. We look to Christ to define those stones. He defined them for us in the description of the good shepherd—John 10:1-18.

The stones are Integrity, Authenticity, Trust, Leadership, Service. We put them together this way:

Integrity proves Authenticity.

Authenticity leads to Trust.

Trust leads to Leadership.

Leaders Serve.

And that’s why I appreciate faithful pastors. They love the Lord and humbly serve the Lord’s church year after year after year.

I remember listening to Moody radio when George Sweeting was honored for his years as president of the Moody Bible Institute. One comment during the tribute sticks in my mind: George Sweeting never caused us to be ashamed. It doesn’t mean he was perfect or even very good on some days. But it rang true as an overall tenor of his life. That tribute is richer than any other success. It is possible to live that way. That’s gold, silver and precious stones.

Take Joy in the Progress of God's People

How do you fight discouragement in leading the Lord’s church? There are several ways, of course. Among them: Get alone with the Lord; get alone with a godly, mature friend who will tell you the truth; examine yourself by asking some hard questions. How about this as well: Take joy in the progress of God’s people.

We all know the many sin problems in the church. We’re sometimes confused about the best way to handle those who deal out trouble, and trouble is consistently present in one form or another. Add to that the complexity of managing your own responses, and trouble can lead to discouragement.

Bottom line is that church leaders must be committed to courageously handle sin problems—including their own—and take joy in the progress of God’s people in the process. If you don’t determine to remember the progress of God’s people, then you’re getting ripe for a descent into debilitating discouragement. That’s a lethargy that hits when the clock’s alarm sounds in the morning, but you just don’t have the energy to get out of bed. It’s the deadness in prayer and the reluctance to open the Scriptures. It’s avoiding people who have hurt you and it’s the refusal to forgive and move on. It puts a distance between you and the Lord and it cripples your spiritual effectiveness in ministry.

The mature leader accepts the bumps and lumps of relationships as a reality of body life in the local church. And it’s not only about everybody else in the church. Each of us disappoints and falls in many ways. Even the best leaders fall . . . but they get up, learn from the fall and continue the work.

Get up. Take note not only of where a person is on the maturity and sanctification scale, but also remember where he started. Don’t focus only on his failures and sins, but also look for and commit to remember marks of his spiritual growth and maturity. Remember the person’s spiritual condition when you first laid eyes on him. Paul noted in Philippians 1:6 that the Lord was not done working when he saved us through Christ. Paul knew and remembered that salvation was only the beginning. The Lord is faithful to continue working with each of us, relentlessly and patiently shaping us to be more like Jesus.

Disciples of Christ are being transformed into the image of the Lord (2 Corinthians 3:18). The transformational fight against sin often is painful and sometimes brings out ugly responses, even in the local church. But, in the face of opposition, disappointment and pain, leaders are to lean into sin problems and take joy in the progress of God’s people. Remember, though, to take joy in your own progress as well.

I’m reminded of a critic who complained that a man in the church really wasn’t much of a Christian. Well, he’s in process, just like each of us. And we’re working with him. You should have seen him a year ago. Yikes. He’s grown a lot since then. That's a reason for joy.

My Money, My Church

Yes, Virginia, money really is a source of all kinds of evil. 1 Timothy 6:7-10. It’s true in the world’s ways and, sadly, it can be true in the local church.

Consider the leader who personally funded a chunk of a church’s expansion project . . . and then assumed that the contribution exempted him from the scrutiny that goes along with the role of elder.

Or the church leader who personally gave the church planting pastor a giant bucket of money so the pastor could buy a house in the community. Then, one year later, he led the key leaders to give a large salary increase to the pastor. But, within three months of that salary increase, he engineered the pastor’s humiliating removal.

I always figured that a senior pastor who meets the qualifications of an elder and who can lead and preach should be allowed to keep his job. But the elder chairman said the pastor had personality problems. Like what? He’s tough to get along with and some people don’t like him.

OK, let’s see, he’s not having an affair, he didn’t steal money from the church and he didn’t punch anybody. He planted the church, he’s a good preacher and the church’s numbers are growing. And you want to fire him because he’s hard to get along with and some people don’t like him? Then let’s get him some help to fix this. But you don’t fire him.

But he engineered the pastor’s removal anyway and was oh-so-pleased that the church kept growing despite the removal. That’s proof, some say, that the decision was righteous. I’m not convinced. The Lord Jesus loves his church so much that He tolerates all kinds of problems so the church carries on. Psalm 7:11. Only the Lord clearly sees whether the firing and the process were composed of gold, silver and precious stones or wood, hay and straw. But, of course, eventually He will make it clear to all. 1 Corinthians 3:12-13.

Then there’s the church that’s shark-like hungry for cash. Large contributors can be welcomed to the decision-making table, but are expected to keep the money flowing in order to be heard. I spoke the other day with an elder-qualified, financially wealthy man who sadly told me of that pain. When discussing issues in the church, he received the subtle yet unmistakable sense that he needed to keep up the giving pace in order to be heard. I consistently got the message: ‘So, when is your next big contribution coming in?’ He’s now off the elder board and out of that church.

It’s painful. It’s disappointing. It’s not what the Lord wants for leadership in His church. And yet, there it is. So what do you do?

You do what the fired pastor did and you do what the wealthy elder did. You move on, you learn what’s needed and you leave the consequences to the Lord. The pastor got up, got some biblical counsel and is back in pastoral ministry in a local church. Proverbs 24:16. The wealthy elder moved on to another church where his wealth is not a litmus test for his usefulness as an elder. James 2:1.

Of course, what matters at the end of it all is recognition from the One who knows. Well done, good and faithful servant. Matthew 25:21.